REVIEW: Commitments show at Theatre Royal packed with soul

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Excuse the pun, but the production of The Commitments at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal was definitely packed with real heart and SOUL.

By this I mean both the succession of soul hits that by the end had the audience on their feet and singing and dancing along — and also the way in which the cast dealt with a technical hitch which caused a 30-minute delay at the start.

Most people know the story behind the hit, which was penned by Roddy Doyle 30 years ago and came to cult prominence when adapted into a movie 25 years ago in 1991.

I can still hear the soulful sounds of ‘Mustang Sally’ ringing in my ear from the repeated times I have watched the film but it was with great anticipation that I went to see the stage version, which came direct from the West End.

Jimmy Rabitte is at the heart of a story that revolves around the lives of a group of young Dubliners who have little to look forward to. Rabitte, played by Andrew Linnie, turns to his love of music and a bid to create the finest soul band the city has ever seen.

And what better way to start than with a classified advert in a music paper?

This leads to a series of hilarious auditions that result in a haphazard group of peers with an unlikely dream coming together. What follows is a story of fame, success and internal wrangling set against the backdrop of industrial Dublin.

Just as they improve and begin to get a name for themselves they implode. The backing singers, the Commitmentettes, are all getting off with the middle-aged trumpet player Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan (Alex McMorran), the singer has entered Eurovision, the drummer has walked out mid-gig and the saxophone player has his eyes on a jazz career.

The movie version of the show focused heavily on the relationships between the main protagonists but as is often the case with a theatre production there is some difficulty in balancing that, especially when this show is heavily reliant on the music.

But there are standout performances from former Coronation Street star Kevin Kennedy as Jimmy’s Da and Brian Gilligan as Declan ‘Deco’ Cuffe, lead vocalist of the band.

Performing as the Commitmentettes (backing singers) Natalie, Imelda and Bernie, are Amy Penston, Leah Penston and Christina Tedders respectively.

But as I alluded to earlier, the real star of the show, in my view, is the music — and what a playlist The Commitments has.

More than 20 classic soul songs performed live on stage is enough to quench any fan’s thirst. The songs include ‘Night Train’, ‘Try A Little Tenderness’, ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, ‘In The Midnight Hour’, ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, ‘Save Me’, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, ‘Thin Line Between Love and Hate’and ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’ more!

And it is when the show comes to a crescendo towards the end that it really hit the soulful heights and sent the audience home feeling satisfied.